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WEATHER RADAR GUIDE Cumulonimbus (Cb) Structure

In flight, Cb structures can be a major source of danger, due to turbulence and

Introduction heavy precipitation.
This pilot’s manual has been prepared as an easy to reference for use the operation
of the WXR Radar RDR-4A/B System on our fleet. Hail
Remember the RDR-4A/B does not detect clouds. However, it can detect moisture Hail represents a major threat, because of its effect and because weather radar do
laden weather formations which usually do have turbulence and windshear not indicate the nature of returns. Only the knowledge of a Cb’s structure and the
associated with them. observation of different clues can help. The presence of hail within a Cb, varies
When properly used, radar becomes a powerful aid in avoiding or reducing the with altitude and wind:
hazards of inadvertent penetration of storm areas and associated turbulence.  Below FL 100, hail is equally likely to be encountered under the storm, in the
cloud or around it (up to 2 NM)
KEY POINT  Between FL 100 and FL 200, 60 percent of hail is encountered in the Cb and 40
Weather radars are designed for active detection of adverse weather conditions. percent is encountered outside the cloud, under the anvil
Antenna tilt, range management and gain function need to be fully understood to  Above FL 200, hail is most likely to be encountered inside the cloud.
use the weather radar effectively. Usually, the threat of hail is greater downwind of a Cb: indeed, moisture is driven
Radar display colors reflect humidity in the air and not necessarily turbulence upward by strong drafts. It Then freezes and is
intensity: A red cell in a humid atmosphere may be less turbulent than a yellow transformed into hail, before being blown
one in dry air. downwind. When possible, it is better to try to
The TURB function should be used to identify the most turbulent cells within 40 avoid a storm by flying on the upwind side of the
NM. Cb. Paradoxically, there is less risk of hail in
humid air than in dry air. In fact, moisture in the
<Sample Control Panels> air behaves as a heat conductor, and helps to
melt the hail.
<The Risk of Encountering Hail
relative to Cb Cloud Position >

Turbulence associated with a Cb is not limited to inside the cloud. Weather radars
cannot detect turbulence in clear air, so it is therefore necessary to take
precautionary measures. A Cb should be cleared by a minimum of 5,000 ft
WX – Provides 180° of continuously updated weather information on the radar vertically and 20 NM laterally, to minimize the risk of encountering severe
display, weather returns will vary from green to yellow to red increasing intensity. turbulence.
Gain Control is operational. Lightning is a very strong indicator of severe turbulence.
TURB or WX/TURB - Provides 180° display of weather and Turbulence up to
40NM and weather only beyond 40NM. Turbulence areas will appear magenta Note:
colored. Gain control will affect weather but not turbulence An estimate of the vertical expansion of
MAP - Displays Terrain Mapping. Gain Control is operational. the cloud above/below the aircraft
GAIN CONTROL: Controls receiver gain. Rotate fully counter clockwise for altitude with the following formula: h
automatic gain. (feet) ~ d (NM) x Tilt (degrees) x 100
Weather Radar Principle It is important to note that reflectivity of particles is not directly proportional to the
hazard that may be encountered in a cell.
Weather Radar Detection Capability
The weather radar only detects precipitation droplets. How much it detects depends Air can be very humid, when close to the sea for instance. In this case, thermal
upon the size, composition and number of droplets. Water particles are five times convection will produce clouds that are full of water. These clouds will have a high
more reflective than ice particles of the same size. reflectivity, but will not necessarily be a high threat.

The radar does detect: On the other hand, there are equatorial overland regions where converging winds
Rainfall produce large scale uplifts of dry air. The resulting weather cells have much less
reflectivity than mid-latitude convective cells, making them much harder to detect.
Wet hail and wet turbulence
However turbulence in or above such clouds may have a higher intensity than
Ice crystals, dry hail and dry snow. However, these three indicated by the image on the weather radar display.
elements give small reflections.
Similarly, snow flakes have low reflectivity, as
The radar does not detect: long as they are above freezing level. As they
Clouds, fog or wind (droplets are too small, or descend through freezing level, snowflakes stick
no precipitation at all) together and become water covered. Their
Clear air turbulence (no precipitation) reflectivity increases and the weather radar display
Windshear (no precipitation except in microburst) may display amber or red cells, despite the fact that
there is no threat.
Sandstorms (solid particles are almost transparent to the radar
Lightning Because the weather radar display depends on signal returns, heavy precipitation
may conceal even stronger weather: The major part of the signal is reflected by the
REFLECTIVITY frontal part of the precipitation. The aft part returns weak signals, which are
Reflectivity of precipitation not only depends on the intensity of the precipitation, displayed as green or black areas. The flight crew may interpret these as a no/small
but also on the type of precipitation. Precipitation that contains water will return a threat area.
stronger return than dry precipitation. Dry hail, for example, will reflect far less
than wet hail. The upper level of a thunderstorm, that contains ice crystals, provides Modern weather radars are now able to apply a correction to a signal when it is
weaker returns than the middle part, which is full of water or wet hail. suspected to have been attenuated behind a cloud. This reduces the attenuation
phenomenon. However, a black hole behind a red area on a weather radar display
Wet Hail Dry Snow should always be considered as a zone that is potentially
very active. Despite this attenuation correction function,
the weather radar should not be used as a tool to
penetrate, or navigate around, areas that are displayed as
severe. The weather radar should only be considered as
a tool to be used for weather avoidance.
<Radar Display>
Color Condition Rain Fall Rate
Black Very light or no returns Less than 0.7 m/hr
Green Light returns 0.7 - 4 mm/hr
Yellow Medium returns 4 - 12 mm/hr
Red Strong returns Greater than 12 mm/hr <Attenuation Behind Two Very Active Cells >
Magenta Turbulence N/A
Weather Shapes that should attract the Flight Crew’s Attention Operational Standards
The best way to use a weather radar is to use it in conjunction with weather reports
Some displays contain cues that should alert the flight crew. Shapes, more and weather forecasts. The weather radar can then be used in flight to detect,
than colors, should be observed carefully in order to detect adverse analyze, and to avoid significant weather.
weather conditions. The flight crew uses four features to operate the radar:
Antenna tilt, that is the angle between the centre of the beam and the horizon
Range control of the ND, that has an essential influence on the optimum tilt
Closely spaced areas of different colors usually
indicate highly turbulent zones.
Gain control, that adjusts the sensitivity of the receiver (and should usually be
set to AUTO)
Some shapes are good indicators of severe hail and Radar modes: weather (WX), weather + turbulence (WX + T).
signify strong vertical drafts. Fast changing shapes, Antenna tilt should be adapted to the ND
whatever form they take, also indicate high range selection. In most cases in flight, the
weather activity. <Closely Spaced Areas of Different Colors> adequate antenna tilt setting shows some
ground returns at the top edge of the ND.
<Shapes Indicating Adverse Weather > However, at takeoff, or in climb, the tilt
should be set up if adverse weather is
expected above the aircraft. The antenna tilt
must be adjusted as the flight progresses, in
relation to the aircraft’s altitude, Display along Radar Beam
the expected weather and the ND range selection.
Finger Hook U-Shape Scalloped Edge * A330 weather radars are fitted with an auto-tilt function that will set the radar antenna tilt
automatically according to the altitude of the aircraft.
At cruise altitude, ice replaces water in clouds, and ice is not detected as
easily as water by weather radars. High vertical expansion clouds are Operational Standards – Tilt
representative of high-energy air movements. Therefore, any returns at In order to avoid overscanning or underscanning, the antenna tilt should be changed
periodically when changing altitude. Also, tilt should be adjusted when changing
cruise altitude should be considered turbulent. In cruise, all cells with green
or stronger returns should be avoided by 20 NM at least. Weather echoes and ground returns are difficult to differentiate. A change in
antenna tilt rapidly changes the shape and color of ground returns and eventually
• Turbulence causes them to disappear. This is not the case for weather echoes.
The TURB function is based on the Doppler effect and is sensitive to Upper levels of a Cb may contain ice, and therefore may return radar images that
precipitation movement. Like the weather radar, the TURB function needs a do not represent the severity of its activity. In order to get a better weather detection,
minimum amount of precipitation to be effective. To help make safe flight weather radar antenna should be pointed toward lower levels, where water can still
path decisions, and especially when the weather ahead is represented as be found, i.e. at levels that are below freezing. If a red area is found at a lower level,
dense, the turbulence display mode should be used. An area of light rainfall, the antenna tilt should be reduced to scan the area vertically. Presence of yellow or
depicted in green in normal mode, is shown in magenta when there is high green areas at higher altitude, above a red cell, is an indication of a very turbulent
area. In this case, elect appropriate route to avoid the area.
turbulence activity. The TURB function is only active within a range of 40
NM (Doppler measurement capability) and can only be used in wet
Clear air turbulence and dry turbulence cannot be detected by the weather radar.
< Beamwidth cross-section diameter versus distance> Operational Standards – combined Tilt & Range
Antenna tilt should be adapted to range selection. To cover the whole area shown
on the ND, the weather radar must have a slightly negative antenna tilt in order to
avoid overscanning.
A correct setting will show some ground return at the top edge of the ND.
Rough estimation of tilt vs. range for ground returns on top of the ND (at level
flight over the sea).
Range 320 160 80 40
<3 degree conical shaped beam> Tilt DN 1 1.5 3.5 6
Note 1. No ground returns beyond line of sight:
• FL370 => 240 NM , FL250 => 200 NM
Note 2. Tilt value for ground return has large difference depend on flight altitude
and geographical features.

Operational Standards – Gain

The GAIN knob on the weather radar panel adjusts the receiver sensitivity.
In general, the AUTO position should be used, except for cell evaluation. If gain is
Operational Standards – Range used manually for in-depth weather analysis, it must be reset to AUTO when
To avoid a large storm, the flight crew must make decisions while still 40 analysis is complete. At high altitudes, water particles are frozen and clouds are less
NM away from it. reflective. Gain may be increased for storm evaluation purposes.

PM - long-term weather avoidance course (in cruise, typically 160 NM and GAIN REDUCTIION:
below) Gain reduction allows the detection of the strongest part of a cell, displayed in red
PF - To avoid, and monitor severity (in cruise, typically 80 NM and below) on the ND. At lower altitudes, cells are more reflective and the weather radar
display may have a tendency to show a lot of red spots. This can also be the case at
Course changes to avoid adverse weather, should be determined using both higher altitude with severe Cbs. In this case, decreasing gain:
Can help to judge the relative intensity between two cells (to elect avoidance
higher and lower ranges. This technique prevents the “blind alley” effect: A
course change that may seem safe when using a low range ND display may Can help to highlight turbulent cells, because the turbulence display is not
reveal a blocked passage when observed at a higher range. affected by gain in turbulence display mode
Can be useful for finding embedded cells, in heavy stratus rain
Can render attenuation more visible, helping to identify very active cells.

“ blind alley ”
Gain Decreased

Note: In MAP mode, the gain should always be reduced because of the high
reflectivity of the ground.
Operational and Human Factors Prevention Strategies -by flight phase
The weather radar display may be wrongly disregarded by the flight crew
(who may decide to enter clouds) in the following conditions: Effective tilt management is the single, most important key to more
informative weather radar displays
Near the destination airport
When following an other aircraft In The Ramp
When more than 15 minutes behind schedule 1. Perform Test using specific model procedure. (Boeing Models)
At night. 2. After push back, set mode selector to WX/TURB mode from TEST.

On the other hand, and as explained before, the weather radar, if not BEFORE TAKEOFF
correctly used or interpreted, may mislead the flight crew when: 1. Set WxR Radar switch ON.
2. Set Range Selector to a range sufficient to display the area included in the
An area of strong activity is hidden behind heavy rain planned flight path.
A small ND range is not sufficient for the flight crew to determine if an elected 3. Adjust antenna TILT control down until ground returns appear. This ensures
trajectory between clouds is blocked by adverse weather further ahead that the radar system is operational.
Dry hail precipitation returns a weaker echo than water droplets 4. If adverse weather is suspected, slowly adjust the antenna TILT control in 1 or
The antenna tilt is not correctly adjusted 2 degree steps to +15 degrees after line up while observing for weather returns.
Gain is left in a manual position. 5. Return antenna TILT control to +4 degrees

Prevention Strategies - General CLIMB-OUT

After takeoff, as needed to detect adverse weather, perform following procedure.
The shape of radar echoes, as well as their color, should be observed to
identify storms containing hail. The gain function should be used for deeper 1. Shortly after takeoff, slowly rotate antenna TILT control to +15, then down to
analysis, but should then be reset to the AUTO position. The TURB where ground returns appear, and then back to +4 degrees while searching for
function can be used when closing in on active weather to identify the most weather targets.
Note: Maintain tilt setting of +4 degrees as long as aircraft’s pitch attitude is
turbulent area.
approximately +15 degrees nose up or greater.
The flight crew should periodically scan: 2. Repeat step above if course changes of 45 degrees or more are made during
Vertically, using the antenna tilt function climb-out.
Horizontally, using the range change Note: Aircraft control has priority over anything and should not be interrupted
As a general rule, the following prevention by above procedure. Therefore, for the auto-tilt not equipped airplane,
strategies apply: consider the tilt 40 up procedure during climb.
Use the weather radar to 3. As altitude increasing, adjust Tilt appropriate to flight path angle.
detect/analyze/avoid significant weather Note: Typical flight path angle above 10,000ft (variable) :
The shape/colors/size of returns are factors 10,000 ft ~ 20,000 ft 30
that should be considered to interpret the 20,000 ft ~ 30,000 ft 20
weather 30,000 ft ~ 10
Effective management of the antenna tilt
along with an appropriate ND range Note: On the airplane with feature of Flight Path Vector, Flight path angle is the
selection, are key tools to obtaining an informative weather radar display on best reference for proper tilt.
the ND
Gain is used in CAL/AUTO mode for detection and initial evaluation of
displayed weather: Manual gain control is used to analyze the weather
Wet turbulence can be detected up to 40 NM with the TURB function.
CRUISE Summary
A typical example of recommendations on the use of weather radar is as
1. As soon as practical, after reaching cruise altitude, select 40 NM range and see follows:
antenna TILT control to -10 degrees.
2. While scanning and observing display for weather targets, adjust antenna TILT
Phase Recommendations Remarks
control clockwise until a sprinkle of ground return appears. (display only on
Ramp Test WxR Radar (Boeing models) Refer to specific model
top of ND)
Note: This ensures that the radar beam is not over-scanning any targets
Taxi Set ND to 10 NM range. Tilt down, then Radar check must be
beginning at 40 miles out to the longest range.
up: Check appearance / disappearance of performed away from
3. After observing weather, select adequate range for flight then adjust tilt for the
ground returns people
Before Scan up to 15° UP for weather return. If Scan along the departure
4. Repeat step 2 for each intermediate range through the longest range intended
for use. Takeoff significant weather is suspected, select path
Rough estimation of tilt vs. range for ground returns on top of the ND (at tilt at 4° UP for takeoff
level flight over the sea). Climb Initial tilt 4° UP. Change tilt according Scan if significant
Range 320 160 80 40 to altitude and ND range. weather.
Tilt DN 1 1.5 3.5 6 Cruise Select negative tilt and maintain ground Scan using tilt along the
Note: To determine whether the detected weather affect flight level, scan using returns on top of ND. flight path to determine
tilt along flight path (Tilt 0 ~ -10). Although the return image is weak, upper As a rule of thumb: whether the detected
level of Cb may contain dry crystal. In this case, severe turbulence should be Range 320 160 80 40 weather will affect the
suspected. Tilt DN 1 1.5 3.5 6 flight level.

DESCENT When approaching weather:

1. Just before descent from cruise altitude, note TILT control setting. Decrease ND range, Tilt down
2. As descent begins, increase TILT control setting in +1 degree increments for Scan to evaluate affected flight level
each 10,000 feet of planned descent. This keeps the display relatively free of Use TURB to isolate turbulence,
ground clutter. GAIN to AUTO
Note: After descending to approximately 15,000 feet and when flying over Descent Above FL150: Tilt 10 UP / 10,000 ft Maintain ground returns
exceptional terrain such as mountains or cities, it may be necessary to adjust Below FL150: Tilt 10 UP / 5,000 ft on top of ND (Refer to
the TILT control setting in +1 degree increments of tilt for 5,000 feet of Flight Path Angle)
planned descent. Approach Select tilt at 4° UP Radar ON until certain to
3. During descent, the adequate antenna tilt setting shows some ground returns at L/D.
the top edge of the ND. Therefore, tilt should be adjusted whenever you
change range on the DN.
Note: On the airplane with feature of Flight Path Vector, Flight path angle is
the best reference for proper tilt.

1. To avoid ground return and for provision against go-around, select tilt up
2. WxR radar should be kept ON until you are certain to land.